KEYWORDS: tent, tents, family, people, meters, walls

Tents & Sleeping Bags--Part One: Tents

Gideon Valor

—By Gideon ValorDFO861January 1, 1980

1. A TENT IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT & expensive piece of equipment in a camper's inventory. It will‚ in fact, be your home. So the most important thing to do is to find one that realistically suits your needs.

2. IN DECIDING WHAT WOULD BE BEST, ask yourself the following questions: How will it be transported? Will it be used as an overnight shelter, or as a more stationary base? Will it be used in warm or cold climates? How many people will be using it? Etc.

3. CONSTRUCTION OF TENTS: TENTS ARE MADE OF 3 MATERIALS—Cotton, nylon (or other synthetic fibers), & plastic. Cotton-canvas is made of cotton fibers & comes in many grades & weights. When treated, it is water resistant. It is fairly heavy & can rot & mildew if not cared for. If it is properly taken care of, it will last many years‚ & is, generally speaking, very durable.

4. NYLON IS STRONG & LIGHT, will not rot or mildew, & is completely waterproof. However, this also means that it will sweat; that is, the water vapour from people breathing inside it will condense on the inside of the tent, making it clammy. For this reason they must be well ventilated, & the stitching holes at the seams should be sealed with a chemical sealer, as they tend to leak there.

5. PLASTIC IS VERY LIGHT & WATERPROOF, but is fragile & tears easily. Its main virtue is that it is very cheap, but it is also noisy & inflammable. Some of the best tents today are made of blended fabrics using both cotton & synthetic fibers, which have the advantages of both materials.

6. TYPES OF TENTS: THERE ARE BASICALLY TWO TYPES OF TENTS. One is the trail or hiker's tent. This is designed to be light, easy to erect & take down, & to provide a basic shelter. The second is the general or family camping tent. It is usually roomier & more comfortable, hence heavier & bulkier.

7. TRAIL TENTS COME IN MANY FORMS, the most common being the familiar pup tent. There are several ingeniously designed lightweight nylon tents made especially for backpackers. Some are large enough to sleep four people & weigh only two–three kilos. They are mainly for people just wanting a roof for the night, nothing more. However, they can be suitable as a "satellite" tent for older children pitched close by the adults' tent. It is generally good to get one that can sleep at least two people.

8. FAMILY OR COTTAGE TENTS: THE COTTAGE OR FAMILY TENT IS TODAY'S MOST POPULAR family camping tent. They come in a variety of designs & sizes & some are as large as small cottages & having screened in porches, separate bedrooms & room dividers, etc. It is the ideal tent for large families. They can weigh up to 40 kilos, so some form of transport is vital.

9. TWO ONE-ROOM COTTAGE TENTS CAN BE FITTED TOGETHER to make a two or three room family tent with an awning between the two tents. If you have a large family you might want to investigate the possibility of getting two smaller tents. Tents with separate rooms are very practical in all respects for family camping & are very easy to put up.

10. SMALL TENTS IN THIS CATEGORY measure about 3.8 meters by 2.8 meters with over 1.8 meters headroom. Large ones can measure up to 6 meters by 6 meters; with 3 meters headroom & sleep six or more easily. Most of these can be put up by one adult in 30 minutes.

11. ONE OF THE MAIN ADVANTAGES OF THESE LARGE TENTS is that they have straight vertical walls, rather than sloping, thus enabling you to use the inside space more completely. Also, remember that most larger tents are made of canvas so you cannot touch the walls when it is raining, or the water will seep through.

12. FLOORS—OR GROUNDSHEETS: MOST MODERN TENTS CONTAIN SEWN-IN FLOORS. If the floor, or groundsheet, is made of canvas, it can be hard to clean. However, if they are vinylised or rubberised, there is no problem, & they can be kept clean with a damp cloth. Built-in floors are big advantages, as they keep bugs out, as well as draughts.

13. TO AVOID GETTING YOUR SEWN-IN GROUNDSHEET DIRTY underneath—& thus the rest of your rent when you pack it—a good idea is to put a sheet of plastic under the ground sheet, which will protect it. Always make sure that the ground sheet is strong & durable & can take plenty of wear.

14. FLYSHEETS: A FLYSHEET IS A VERY HANDY ITEM on most tents. It is simply a sheet of material that goes over the whole tent (not touching it), sort of like a second roof, & pegged to the ground. When it is over a tent, it makes the tent cooler in summer, warmer in winter & much more waterproof during the rain. It can also be used as a windbreak, & a place to keep things between the two walls.

15. TENT PEGS: STEEL STAKES ARE A GOOD CHOICE for all round use when weight is not a serious handicap, & thus are excellent for camping when you have the use of a car. Aluminum pegs have the virtue of being light, but they also tend to be frail & bend out of shape far more easily that they should.

16. WATERPROOFING: EVERY NEW CANVAS TENT IS TREATED BY ITS MANUFACTURER TO MAKE IT WATERPROOF or water repellent. This first treatment could last several years, however, sooner or later every canvas tent has to be waterproofed. Most of the commercial solutions available are silicone based, & come in paint–on or spray containers. The paint-on treatment is slower‚ but cheaper & more thorough.

17. IN ADDITION TO THIS, EVERY CAMPER SHOULD HAVE ON HAND A CANDLE OR TWO, or paraffin for emergency waterproofing, as rubbing some over a leaky area will waterproof it temporarily. Be very careful with homemade waterproofing liquids, as some can be very inflammable.

18. TIP ON BUYING: THE GOLDEN RULE OF BUYING ANY CAMPING EQUIPMENT IS: SEE BEFORE BUYING. And seeing means inspecting your future tent pitched. Have everything explained & demonstrated if there is any doubt. Make a special note of the guarantee & what it entails, & the after-sales service offered. Also ask what specific maintenance is required (i.e., water proofing, etc.).

19. ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO SELECT A TENT IS TO VISIT A DEALER who has a large selection erected for display. Camping exhibitions are also good places to see different models. Examine them very carefully, lay sleeping bags down inside them to test for space. You should always buy the best quality that you can afford, & when in doubt about the size, buy the next size up.

20. IN ESTIMATING WHAT SIZE TENT YOU WILL NEED‚ it is good to plan on about 95 cm of width for each adult camper‚ as this is the width of most sleeping bags. Every tent should have a screened in doorway & screened windows. The general quality to look for in choosing a larger tent is roominess.

21. YOUR TENT COULD EASILY BE UP FOR A WEEK OR SO & must have room for table, chairs‚ etc.‚ & anything else that you plan to put in it. In general, tents with vertical walls allow better use of floor space than tents with sloping walls.

22. TO SPOT QUALITY IN TENTS, LOOK AT THE SEAMS. They should be straight & tight. Double stitching is best. Look for extra thickness of fabric at corners & at the peak, as this is where they are subject to stress. Zippers should be heavy duty, preferably nylon. Check to see if all the attachments for the guylines (small ropes holding tent to the ground) are sewn on extra strong. Does the canvas fit the tent frame too tightly? Allow for some shrinkage. Does the tent have extra guylines in case of storm?

23. MAKE SURE THAT THE COLOUR IS BRIGHT & CHEERFUL. Blue & orange are good combinations, as are yellow & green. White is poor. In warm weather climates choose a colour that is light to reflect the sun. Also‚ make sure that there are large windows.

24. POLES: IN GENERAL, TRY TO GET A TENT THAT HAS NO INTERIOR SUPPORTING POLES, as they are awkward & always risk being knocked down. Check a lot of different stores before you buy, so as to give yourself the largest possible choice. Army Surplus stores often have good material, but it tends to be heavy. Often you can buy exhibition models or used tents that are advertised in camping magazines.

25. WHEN TO BUY: FROM LATE AUTUMN ONWARDS is a good time, as some people want to sell after using their material for just one holiday. Also‚ around Easter is a good time, but always ask them why they want to sell their material.

26. A GOOD GENERAL RULE TO FOLLOW IN BUYING YOUR EQUIPMENT is to buy one or two pieces of equipment at a time, & build up your gear in stages. This way you stick to priorities, learn to camp from basics & avoid buying unnecessary items not suited to your particular needs.

27. BREAKING IN YOUR TENT: AFTER YOU HAVE BOUGHT YOUR TENT, it is always good to set it up in a garden & let it weather a few days.